The most important lesson that I’ve learned while living abroad and traveling 

I want to let you know right from the start: this post is different from anything that I’ve been writing on my blog before. As a traveller and person who lives abroad I feel that this topic is close to me. I also think that it is relevant for everyone, no matter if you live abroad, go traveling occasionally or live in your home country. This is something that laid the foundation for my present life and the way I see the world. I want to share it with you in the hope and attempt to make the world a better and more respectful place. 

“Do not generalize.”

This is probably the most important lesson that I’ve learned during my studies in Sweden. The whole course of Global Journalism was pretty crappy academic, which made it a bit ridiculous, because journalism is a practical profession... Anyways, we had one teacher, who seemed to have little idea of academic journalism studies herself, but knew a lot about practicing this profession. Swedish journalist Nina Hjelmgren was teaching one course and gave us all a very important lesson: DO NOT GENERALIZE. She delivered this message in regards to journalism, but for me this statement has been a starting point of changing my mindset. 

I was born and raised in a provincial Russian town. The only traveling I’ve ever done were two trips to the sunny Egyptian resorts of Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh together with my parents. These places with hotels, nice beaches and its own infrastructure are so preserved and isolated from the outside world that even though I’ve been to Egypt, I haven’t seen it. What did I know about the world back then? Almost nothing. All my knowledge consisted of media reports, traveling documentaries, stories of my parents and their friends who travelled abroad. It was a set of stereotypes and prejudice and it had nothing to do with the reality. 

I always knew that the world is so much bigger than just one country, even if it is the biggest country in the world. I wanted to see Europe, but not as a tourist. I wanted to experience and get to know it. When I was 22, I left to study in Sweden. Crazy choice to experience Europe, I know. At this time I had no idea what I was doing, and my head was full of stupid stereotypes about different nationalities and countries.

Of course, we are all raised in different condition and under different circumstances, and this forms us into what we are. However, this doesn’t mean that during your life you should stop learning. And, yes, this often means that you would actually question some things that you consider as facts, and, maybe, find out that they are not true. Even if your mom and dad told you they were.

Generalization is the reason why stereotypes exist. And stereotypes are stupid. Please, let me explain you why.

“All Germans love beer”, “all Dutch smoke weed”, “all Russians drink vodka”, “all British love the Royal family” and so on. Things like that are silly to say, but they don’t really harm anyone. That’s true in a way, but let’s continue:

“Women from Eastern Europe work as prostitutes abroad”, “All Americans are stupid”, “Black people are lazy”, “All Muslims are terrorists, they are dangerous”... I don’t want to continue, because I feel sick in my stomach when I imagine how people that are belong to these groups feel when they hear or read something like that. It hurts. Imagine that you are labeled to be something you are not, just because you are a woman, or a man, because you belong to a specific nationality or religion, or to no religion at all, because you don’t eat meat, or the opposite — because you do, because of your skin or hair colour. And this something is negative and insulting, something that you, maybe, hate yourself! 

I guess that people generalize and use stereotypes, because in that way it’s much easier to see the world. Everything has its label, so when you meet something similar to what you already know, you don’t need to think and you just label it in exactly the same way. But that’s ridiculous! 

Photo: Roman Drits | Barn Images
Photo: Roman Drits | Barn Images

Imagine that you went to a grocery store to buy tomato for the first time in your life. You found it, payed for it and brought it home. Unfortunately, that tomato was rotten. You ate it and felt bad afterwards. Following the logic of generalization, you would make a conclusion that all tomatoes in that store, or even in the whole world, are bad for you. 

That sounds pretty stupid, doesn’t it? Well, yes, it does. You would never think about tomatoes in that way. You’d say: “Well, this tomato was not good, so next time I will search for a fresh one”. Why can’t we apply the same to people? 

Because of stereotypes and generalization, people may feel hate, disgust or prejudice against other people, whom they group in some kind of way. But the thing is: if you had a bad experience with one tomato, or if you’ve heard about someone having it, it doesn’t mean that all tomatoes are rotten and bad for you. Don’t be afraid to try a tomato and find out for yourself. Who knows, maybe that is going to be the best experience of your life? 

I was lucky to go abroad and meet amazing international people from all over the world, to get to know their cultures and what is more important — their personalities. It helped me to change my perception of the world, although it wasn’t easy in the beginning. It also didn’t come to me overnight — it was a process and struggle with what I’ve known and believed in before. 

I know that not everyone has the opportunity to go live abroad or travel to explore the world and see things for themselves. But we live in a global world and I bet that there are people from other countries and cultures nearby you. Maybe, instead of being afraid of them and imagining things about them, just open up and get to know them. Find out for yourself, if really all tomatoes are the same. 

It was not easy for me to write about that topic and find the right words. I did my best and hope that you can relate. What are your thoughts? I'd like to hear how your opinion, your experience or how you feel about it.


About the author


Hi, I am Maria, blogger and founder of Globalmary.com.

I was born and grew up in Russia, studied in Sweden and now live in Hamburg, my most favorite city in Germany. I travel a lot and write about places I've been to. I share my best travel tips and experience about what it means to live a global life!

 

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